Tuesday, February 27, 2007

So Long, Babe

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The day I turned 21, in 1987, was a bright sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky. Bright and sunny, but not warm, because my birthday's in April. It was one of those chilly/sunny combination days I love so much. It was a chill that gently caressed your skin; it didn't sink in deep enough to make you cold. It had just enough kick to it to make you want to calmly breathe it deeply into your being, and let it invigorate you.
It was an unusually still day that day, too. The old, giant trees of Waveland and Pinegrove sat silently in their mist of baby-green budding leaves, slowly revealing their secret to anyone who cared to watch. The late afternoon sun lit a patchwork of April yellow up and down Broadway, and gave a comforting glow to the few of us that were outside at that moment.
The color of the sun that day reminded me of the neighborhood near a lake in Wisconsin I lived in for a while, in the early seventies. I tried to remember a birthday from that time, and as I walked over to the Orbit Room to meet Scot, who had recently started working there, I recalled in a flash my ninth birthday on Tayco Street:

My parents were divorced, and my dad took a road trip with his girlfriend to Las Vegas in 1975, to visit his brother. I was very upset he was taking this trip, because he would be gone for a long time, and I would miss him terribly, and he would be away for my birthday. He did his best to comfort me, and told me the weeks would fly by, and he'd be back before I knew it. He also told me he would mail me a special present from Nevada.
I sat on the porch waited every weekend hoping to see his Jeep driving down my street, hoping this was the weekend he was coming home.
"Your dad's not coming this weekend, Bri, he'll be back in a couple weeks." My mom said.
My step father made those weekends me and my brothers usually spent with my father a special time, because we were so sad he was gone. We sprawled out on the living room floor as he read us the Sunday comics, he made us his special oatmeal, and we screamed and yelled at the TV during the afternoon wrestling matches.
My present from my dad came in time for my birthday, and I was so excited to get something in the mail that was for me, because mail was a grown-up thing.
It was a small white box, and in it was a western belt buckle. Not a toy, or a game, but a belt buckle. Is he sure he sent me the right thing? I thought to myself.
Even though I loved it, I stared at that box and it's coppery contents for hours, pondering it's meaning.
My mom must've noticed me doing this, because later that day she told me You're a young man now, Brian, and there comes a time when you get less toys for presents, and more special ones. That is a very special present.
When my dad eventually came home, he showed us all the pictures he took, and he told us about driving in the desert, and gambling in the casinos, Something you have to be 21 to do! he said.
That's twelve years from now. I though to myself. I wonder where I'll be when I'm 21?

Well, I was on my way to Limelight. The bouncer at Orbit Room was a dick, and told me to come back at midnight, because I wasn't 21 yet. I had been there a million times, but he turned me away.
I went to Limelight with Erin and Danny, and met my boss Consita and her friend there. I remember being really happy that night. I didn't get overly drunk, which was rare back then, and I took some pictures. I was happy my childhood was over. I had very little idea how I was going to be and adult, but my limbo period was over. I had been living on my own since I was nineteen, but to the world I was a child, until that day.
There was so many, many things about my childhood I wanted to leave behind me, and I thought now that I was 'officially' an adult, I would be able to.
I didn't belong to anyone now, and the past I had spent so much time fretting over, belonged to the child I used to be, not this adult I am now.
I couldn't have been more wrong.

In the waning months of the summer of '87, when Jody and I still lived together, Doug came for a visit. Yes, Doug, the ex who I was having such a difficult time getting over, came to see the Gay Pride parade. I wasn't sure of his motives for the trip, but I agreed to spend the day with him at the parade. I don't know if I'm blocking this memory, but I don't remember if he stayed with me, or with someone else.
We left my apartment on Pinegrove, and while walking down Halsted, my shorts caught on something, causing a huge rip. A rip so big I had to go back home to change.
All the planning I did on my appearance to give Doug an I'm-just-fine-and-dandy-you-made-a-mistake-by-leaving-me-I'm-gorgeous-and-you-can-never-have-me-again impression, all the hours I put into sewing those shorts making them perfect, went down the drain.
When we finally did make it to the parade, I was in for the shock of my life. Every single person I had ever met in the year and a half since Doug left Chicago was at that parade, and remembered my name and said hello. Every single one, every few minutes, all day long. I had no idea I knew so many people.
Hi Brian. Hi. Hello Brian. Hey! Brian! Hello! Brian! Hi! Look! It's Brian! Hi! Hey! Hi! Hello! How are ya?! Hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi....
I felt like Marilyn, in that early eighties made-for-TV movie, in the scene in Central Park, where she's walking anonymously with a friend, and her friend asks her why she's not worried she'll be recognized and mobbed by fans, and Marilyn replies: She's not here right now, that's why. Do you want to see Her? And the actress 'turns on' Marilyn, and starts slinking through the park, and is instantly surrounded by adoring fans, while her friend shrinks away, shaking her head in amazement.
Doug was also amazed by what was happening that day, and kept asking me how I knew so many people, and I said, Oh, you know, people just like me, I guess.
And just when I thought this spell of adoration had ended, and new group of people would round the corner, and it would start all over again.
"Well, you seem to be doing fine here. I'm glad you moved here. Are you happy here?"
Doug said,when we got back to my place.
I didn't know what to say. My feelings were divided. I loved being in this city, and knew I should be here, but I wasn't with him; he had ended our relationship and left Chicago. Did I have the right to tell him the pain I was going through because of our break up? How shattered I was? How crushed my sense of self was? Did he need to know how deeply I felt for him, even though I would probably never see him again? Should I tell him how in awe I was of him, and how privileged I felt knowing he wanted to be with me, the short time we were together?
I looked at him and said...

Well, I don't remember what I said. I probably didn't say anything at all.

Me and Tony Tasso, Limelight, 1987
21! Limelight, 1987
(left to right) Erin, Danny Wickie-Poo, Linda, Me, Consita, and unknown cutie, Limelight, 1987

Monday, February 19, 2007

Diamond Dogs

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Come out of the garden, baby....

I don't wanna write this post now. I don't feel like it. These things always take me forever to write, and my enthusiasm wanes whenever I look at my 'stats' link at the bottom of the page. Ninety percent of the people who view this blog, view it for '0 seconds'. But I know I have a handful of loyal readers, and I can't let you two down, now can I?
Wanna know a secret? When I write this, I think to myself, would Morrissey like it? Will David laugh? Will Jody like it? Will Erin? Will Scot contradict my memories? Is this something I would like to read? Will people think less of me? (I hope so!) Will I get arrested? Will I get an email from a Japanese animation company asking if they can turn this into a TV series? When all those questions are answered to my satisfaction, I feel I have written something worth reading.

The year of '87, when I was 20, was the year of Limelight. Oh, Limelight. Lime lime lime light light light. I loved that gigantic labyrinthine booze palace. Erin and I lived there that year; we went most every night. Limelight had an hedonistic reputation back then, and from the moment you walked in to the old refurbished museum and saw the living display cases and the outrageous staff, you knew you weren't an ordinary place. I loved it because there were so few boundaries. After spending years in a high school where I had to know exactly which hallways to avoid, and at what times, lest I get verbally assaulted or worse, to be able to drunkenly roam the halls of Limelight in lipstick and big spiked hair was just the cure I needed.

Last week's Grammys reminded of a story from my high school days that illustrates a point; I forever associate The Police with hatred. (Sorry, Sting.) One day my mother drove me to school in her '67 Jaguar two-seater. I asked her to stop at the north entrance, because it was nearest my locker. I usually had to take the back way into school, because the A-list clique hung out at the tables near my locker, so I had to kind of sneak up to it, without them seeing me. But because it was late afternoon, I thought it would be safe to enter the school that way; the clique would be in class. Well, they weren't. When I walked in, I stopped dead in my tracks, and they sat in stunned silence looking at me, because of the amazing car I just exited, and my beautiful mother waving to me from behind the wheel. After a second or two, a hail storm of pencils and wads of paper and sexual epithets (the norm if I came near them) rained down upon me as I raced the twenty feet the my locker. This was the day before The Police concert in Milwaukee, and they were sitting around talking about how excited they were to go. I pulled out my jean jacket, with my Jam pin stuck to it, from my locker, as I listened to their plans. The Police are OK, I thought to myself, but The Jam... .

I made a lot of clothes for Erin and myself that year, and Jody sure was mad when she found the sketches of designs I did for Erin. My dream was to become a famous designer. I spent hours ripping apart vintage clothes and putting them back together in modern ways, and creating my own designs. I did a few fashion shows at Limelight, and sold a lot, and did some work for a few local rock bands. When my sewing machine broke, I never got a new one, and I let my dream fade away.
My friend Marty's band was scheduled to play Limelight one August evening, and on the night of the concert, I got ready at Erin's place. I put a Robert Smith-like wig on her, and re-named her Carmelita Malbletto. (Laverne and Shirley fans will know what that means.)
Well, because of all the wigs and sewing and booze and glamour pills, it was very late when we got there, and we missed Marty's performance. We found them in the Dome Room, which wasn't easy, for the place was packed. I knew my friend Ava was working in the basement that night, and we usually did 'naughty' things down there, so I snuck away from Erin, because she would kill me if she knew I was doing more drugs.
I lost track of the time, and went to find Erin. The main bathrooms were in the basement, and in my haze, I thought I saw her go in there. The sudden bright light confused me, so I started yelling her name. Not really seeing or hearing anything, I dropped to the floor and crawled under the partitions of the long row of toilets, asking each occupant if they were Erin, and was met with screams of laughter, until I found her.
"Jesus! What are ya? Half nuts? What are you doing?" She yelled at me.
"I'm just trying to have a little fun. Let's hang out here a while. I ran into Kristin a few stalls over. Let's invite her in." I said.
We partied in the stall a while, and made our way back to the Dome Room.
It had cleared out by then, and we found a seat where we could survey the room. Someone started singing Happy Birthday loudly, and Erin said That voice sounds familiar...oh, it's Bryan Adams. A little later he sang along with Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, but the room was blase about it. We didn't ignore him per say, but no one fawned over him. I was secretly jealous all of my friends had met him, but I made no effort to talk to him. Soon he came up to us, and said something like you two look like the funnest people here, and we hung out for a while. He could not have been a sweeter guy.
"Hey, you guys want to come to my hotel for a party?"

Growing up in the conservative mid-west in the late 1970's, any mention of Studio 54 on TV sent me racing to watch it. To me it was a place for the creative and famous, conservatives be damned, and I couldn't wait to go somewhere like that. I found it for a while at Limelight. As I got older and read about the history of the club, and biographies on Capote, Liza, and Halston, it finally dawned on me many people ran there to fuel their destruction, rather than to celebrate what made them 'different' from the rest of the world. Even though the enviornment and people of Limelight was the exact opposite, but, contrastly, similar in some ways, to my not-so-distant high school days, I still could only hear the echos of past hatred through it's vast corridors, no matter how much I drank or ingested.
That reminds me of a Crowded House song....

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The 32nd of December

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Do you have those moments in your life you rarely visit? You don't dare to visit? You fear to visit, because you know they define you too perfectly, and the power of that can make you want to stare at a crumb on the floor for hours and play the music of drug addicts way too loud on your ipod? Or tend to those moments in your life as you would to a child who's hurt themselves; doing your best to nurse them back to health, futilely wishing you could've been there to prevent it from happening in the first place?
I don't mean those calamitous or dramatic moments, like getting run-over by a car, or having a baby, but those tiny flashes from a time in your life you pretend not to notice. And what makes it worse, is that even though this tiny event perfectly defines who you are as a human being, and your purpose on this planet, it's only the tip of the iceberg. The tippy-tippy top of a mountain of those moments that add up to your life. A life, that can be easy to pretend, isn't yours.
Do you want to know my moments? I'll tell you, but I can't explain; I can't explain, because I'll have to get my ipod out, and it's late, and I want to get up early tomorrow. Two big ones are: getting called to the Principal's office over the school loud speaker in 8th grade, and watching TV in a bar one night in 1994.
As they say, you're only as sick as your secrets...

Spending time with Robert in the late winter of 1987 was, for the most part, a good experience. He had recently moved to Chicago from the east to open a Midwest branch of an art store chain. He had an arty, European look going for him, and a quiet, understated coolness. He also, of course, was a painter. Doug, my ex, was a painter, too. He asked me, one night at Berlin, if I wanted to come to his place and see some of his work.
Robert and I had dinner first at a Chinese restaurant, that is now 7-11, on the corner of Clark and Wrightwood. They used to have a sign up that said "Home of Elton John's favorite egg rolls!" (Why I remember these things, I don't know.) During the meal he made his true intentions for this invitation clear to me by taking off his shoe and putting his foot in my lap. I was attracted to him, but I think I was more attracted to the fact he was attracted to me.
His apartment was in a beautiful old turn of the century building down the block on a snow covered Wrightwood Avenue. It was a dark and moody place, and by every wall there were dozens of large canvases leaning up against them. After looking at his work for a while, we made our way to his bedroom. I put on the Maria Callas tape he had sitting on his desk, and stared out his window, and watched as the music gave a different meaning to the cold Chicago skyline. I spent a long time at the window, with my back to him as we talked, as I slowly took off my clothes, after I noticed he was doing the same. I remember it being one of those experiences where we both thought the other person was more attracted to us than we were to them, if you know what I mean. A little later, he said Joan River's new show starts tonight. Let's go watch it.
We spent some time together over the next few weeks, with better nights spent in the bedroom, but soon we decided to 'just be friends'.
Robert's friend David drove me nuts. They were constantly together, and constantly at Berlin (so was I), laughing over some conspiratorial conversation they were engaged in. David always had a smile on his face and a beer in his hand, and was gorgeous, and was a huge touchy-feely flirt with me. Whenever I called him on it, and demanded us to get together, he would say OK! but never called me. I eventually started to take his behavior toward me in stride and referred to him as my boyfriend, and made up stories for him about our 'relationship', causing him to break out into loud gales of laughter, as my stories grew more outrageous. He had an easy laugh, and I loved to hear it.
During the summer of '87 I spent most every night at Berlin, and Robert and David were always a part of my evening there, but as '88 rolled around, I started to spend my nights elsewhere, but I would run into Robert a lot over the years, and in '94 or so, and he gave me some news.
It turns out David had a rare and fatal heart condition, which he was diagnosed with as a teenager, and wasn't expected to live much past his 21st birthday, but he kept surprising his doctors, and made it to his late twenties, and died in '93. He was still very upset about his passing, and had a hard time talking about him. Robert was one of the few people he talked to about his condition, I think because Robert had lung cancer a few years before I had met him, and it was in remission. When Robert told me about his cancer, I remember the news floating over my head like a cloud; I just couldn't absorb it.
I was stunned about David, and held Robert and told him how much I was going to miss David, and how I loved knowing him.

The inspiration for this post came to me when I was in the back of a cab the other night, and heard a call-in radio show about 'changing the way you think', and a caller re-defined the meaning of the bible commandment, Honor Thy Father and Mother, as referring to reason (father) and emotion (mother), and it made me think about which of the two had ruled over me more in the past, and do I have, or can I find, a balance now.

Monday, February 05, 2007


I found that drawing I told you about in You Want Fries with That?. (Thank God! I thought it was lost forever!)
I drew this in 1979, when I was 13.
That thing at the top that looks like a tulip is a piece of Sky Lab, crashing through a dinner party in a penthouse. The piece is flying up, because in my mind, when Sky Lab crashed into the ground, big pieces went flying up. Notice my preoccupation with fine art and furniture. Notice all the women have on high heels. Notice the terrified dinner guests running from the elegant table, because they know the cracking floor won't hold out much longer. Notice the toppling priceless statues and lighting fixtures. Notice the hole in the floor where people are falling to their doom, and some are hanging on for dear life. Notice the woman running behind the woman in the red dress, and her long, black opera gloves, and the woman behind her, glamorously posed in death in high heels, because some debris landed on her head. It's hard to make out, but notice the horrible precision of the random piece of Sky Lab debris hitting the ceiling chain of the chandelier, sending it crashing down onto some unfortunate party goers. Notice how crazy and gay I was when I was 13...